Many preachers took up the Isaiah 55 passage this past Sunday, proclaiming the abundant provision of God for all that sustains life.
All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
You who have no money, come buy food, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk, without money, without price!
The invitation is almost too good to be true! Who gets to purchase the finest food and drink without ever pulling out the credit card? Not only does the prophet speak of the basic physical nourishment we require, but also speaks of listening to God “that your soul may live” (55:3b). Many live unaware that our deepest longings go beyond what we eat and drink; hunger and thirst for the Holy One are inscribed into every human being. The problem is that we forget, over and over.
This portion of Isaiah announces that the time of desolation is over and that God may be sought — and found (v.6). God promises abundance, and renewal will come to a place covered with briers and thorns. Myrtle and cypress trees will flourish, and they will signal God’s goodness and restorative power. The landscape will mirror the renewing work God will do with the covenant people. As Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.”
Weariness with life stalks many in our time, and rather than turning to the source of renewal, we often simply numb ourselves with “food that does not satisfy” or distracting entertainment. Recently we have been shocked by the social media fueled suicide of an adolescent boy, goaded by the promptings of an adolescent girl. Teenage suicide is on the rise (and it is not just boys), and one cannot help but wonder at the level of emptiness so many experience. The incessant postings of peers who seem, by comparison, to have more friends, fun and family leaves others with a sense of diminishment that cannot be surmounted.
God’s invitation is nothing less than a beckoning to receive what God alone can provide: grace. Grace receives us as we are and renews the human spirit. Grace reminds us of who we are created to be and supplies the enervating work of the Spirit that we might fully live. Without grace, despair eclipses hope, and persons wonder if they can endure.
I have just enjoyed the extravagance of two weeks away in the mountains of northern New Mexico. The Idlewild Community, near Eagle Nest, provides a “preacher cabin” for visiting ministers. If you preach at the worship service, you have the privilege of staying in this rustic setting for the better part of a week. Since I preached two Sundays, I got to stay a bit longer. I am grateful that my school encouraged this investment of time, and I trust my soul will live with a greater sense of abundance.
The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is “listen,” and this is what I have attempted to do in this time. I have listened to rushing streams flowing over creek stones; I have listened to wind ruffling wild flowers; I have listened to mule deer stirring in the brush; I have listened to rain on a tin roof; I have listened to bats squeaking under the eaves; I have listened to Scripture; and, I have listened to the sound of a “fine silence,” as Elijah testified. God has spoken through these media, and it has been good.
Most important has been an attentiveness to grace that is an intrinsic part of Sabbath. Wendell Berry says this of Sabbath: “… the field is tilled and left to grace.” Recognizing the limitation of effort and the need for rest requires a level of relinquishment, which most of us resist. Meister Eckhart used the concept of Seinlassen in his mystical writings; it is an attitude of “letting be,” of being in a state of receptivity to what might be born through us. He encourages humans to become the silent place of God’s presence.
Tethered to our devices, we presume that if we go off the grid dire things may happen. I had little wi-fi connectivity in the “preacher’s cabin,” and wonder of wonders, my school, church and family all survived just fine in my absence. Humility trusts that God’s grace will produce harvest even when our labor is suspended. The word “Shabbat” comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, meaning to cease. The Sabbath keeps the people more than people keep the Sabbath, as the Jewish adage reminds us.
Soon the rhythms of summer will be behind us, and the regularity of academic and ecclesial schedules will order our days and weeks. The memory of this time of renewal will linger, I trust, and remind me to return to the source of life, where one may drink deeply. God’s invitation is ever present, and abundant grace is offered.